As an active member of my university’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, I had some fears when I arrived in Greece, a deeply religious country with a track record of homophobia. Would I be able to wear my rainbow-colored bracelet or “Gay is Okay!” pins on my backpack? Would I have to hide my identity from my roommates? There were no pre-established LGBT groups for me to join: Would I be able to infiltrate this social group in Athens?
I was thrilled to discover the opportunity to write a CLC on an extra-curricular experience, and even more thrilled to find contact information for Athens Pride, a non-profit group in charge of organizing Athens’ annual Pride Festival. Joanna Simos, Assistant Director, introduced me to the Athens Pride volunteer coordinator, who, to my surprise, immediately invited me out for coffee in order to get to know me.
As anyone who has spent any time with Greek people knows, getting coffee is not merely running into a Starbucks and leaving fifteen minutes later with a five-dollar Frappuccino. Getting coffee is an activity that requires a not insignificant portion of your day. I met Fotini, the head coordinator, at the Syntagma metro station at noon, but we didn’t end up leaving the coffee shop until about 4:30 in the afternoon.
During that time, Fotini invited another volunteer, Maria, to join us. They taught me a lot about Greek gay culture, particularly the complications posed by the permeation of Greek Orthodoxy into most aspects of Greek life. However, they reassured me that Athens was the most gay-friendly place in Greece and that if I knew where to look, I would be able to find quite a few LGBT spaces. And, in time this is exactly what happened.
My first meeting of Athens Pride was somewhat overwhelming. I was in a room with thirty young adults, none of whom I had ever met and all of whom were speaking Greek. My translator was a short friendly man in his twenties named Andreas, and he kept me updated with the topics that were being discussed in the meeting. We brainstormed ways of getting the messages about Pride out into the Athenian public. Someone suggested a flashmob, and one of the volunteers happened to be a dance instructor. I eagerly put my name down to participate in the flashmob. Two of the girls I met at this meeting even invited me to join them in cooking pastitsio, a traditional Greek dish, and afterwards they offered to take me to Gazi to show me some of the best gay clubs and bars in Athens. We also attended a fundraising event for Pride that hosted ten of the hottest DJs in Athens, some of whom were LGBT themselves. The event even featured a drag show, which was so much fun to watch!
Flashmob rehearsals were exhausting but so much fun. Our song choice was a mix of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” and Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You,” and while the dancing itself was enjoyable, the most rewarding experience was to get to spend time with real Greek young adults who were interested in the same things I was in. It is true that friendships can be created anywhere. Rehearsals were entirely in Greek, but I was able to copy and follow along just fine, and I even picked up some colloquialisms just from listening to them interact.
Volunteering with Athens Pride definitely enriched my semester in more ways than one. I have learned so much about Greece that I would not have learned in any of my classes, and I got the opportunity to interact with Greek young adults. My friends in Pride were just as eager to learn about America as I was to learn about Greece, and I gained a lot of valuable insight and share some of my own stories, some of them LGBT-related but many of them not. I realized that this exchange is what creates friendships from interactions.
Helping to organize Pride also gave me activities to do outside of class, which helped me feel much more independent, as I often had to navigate public transportation to find meeting places and rehearsal spots, several of which were outside of the main central hub of Athens where my classes were situated.
It was a very positive experience, and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to join an organization that allowed me to make friends and work towards something that I believe in.
*Arcadia’s Co-curricular Learning Certificate (CLC) motivates students to engage with their host community and take full advantage of their study abroad experience. It provides them with a formal incentive to enhance their not-for-credit development. This is our way of encouraging and recognizing the thoughtful participation, reflection and rich learning they’ve achieved through their involvement in the local culture and communities.